1080p Home Theater Projector Comparison Report - Image Quality
April 2010 - Art Feierman
Home Theater Projector Image Quality
The goal of this section is to allow you to quickly read over our findings for different home theater projectors. A large portion of the content below will be snippets from the original reviews. That seemed to work well in last year's report, so we're sticking with it.
Above, Epson Home Cinema 8100: Men In Black, Blu-ray
For image quality, our primary concerns will be:
Out of the box color (without adjustment)
Naturalness of flesh tones
Black levels and shadow detail
Overall image quality ( "feel" of the projector). My partially subjective opinions on "film-like performance", ease of watching, and for lack of a better term, "wow factor" (some projectors just look good, and others make you think "awesome", even though they may technically be very, very similar).
Let's get started!
1080p Home Theater Projectors - Out of the Box Picture Quality
First things first: While the "out of the box" picture quality varies significantly (from not very good to extremely good), not one projector reviewed couldn't be improved with a good calibration. We always recommend you get your projector calibrated to get the most out of it. Best of course, is a professional calibration (unless you have the gear to do it yourself), but, alternately, you can improve a projector's performance even with a basic end user calibration disc. The third alternative is to try the calibration settings we provide. They aren't quite as in-depth as a full professional calibration, but readers typically report a visible improvement when using our settings, compared to out of the box performance.
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
This year there are ten projectors in this group of entry level priced 1080p projectors. That's twice the number as last year, despite lowering the maximum price of this category to $2000 (from $2100). This year the projectors are nicely spread out from $999 (actually $899 by the time you read this), all the way up to $1999. At the time of this report, six of the projectors are between $899 and $1500, and four of them between $1500 and $2000.
Our focus when discussing out of the box picture quality, is on "best" mode. Best mode for most projectors is the least bright, but is optimized to be best for viewing movies in a fully darkened room.
In the full projector review of the BenQ W1000, I wrote this about how the W1000 looked, right out of the box: The "out of the box" color is very good, but a touch too much red... that about covers it. Yes, this is a projector that most owners will find to be perfectly pleasing with the default color modes.
Epson Home Cinema 8100
Here's the original word on the HC8100: "Out of the box" picture quality leaves a good bit to be desired. That's nothing to worry about, or even consider seriously as this is not a production unit. I am expecting that there will be different final color tables when the projector starts shipping. Past Epsons have usually been good to very good, right out of the box, which is to say, they can still be significantly improved with a calibration, or, failing that, try the settings we provide. We never did receive a second, full production version, for a second look, but would expect the out of the box to be at least "good" as that's pretty safe for a projector only slightly improved over its predecessor.
Nicely done! This paragraph from the original review pretty much is all that needs to be said: Very impressive color and overall picture right out of the box, and that's twice as impressive because this is an early engineering sample. Not only are there good looking preset combinations, but the minor color inaccuracies are easily corrected with a calibration.
You don't usually expect the least expensive projector of them all to have particularly good color, out of the box, yet: the HD20's out of the box picture quality is rather good. From a color temperature standpoint, the HD20's "best" mode is almost dead on the ideal 6500K, but that number doesn't account for green being a bit down from red and blue. Still, very watchable.
Nothing else needs to be said: The PT-AE4000 really did look extremely good, right out of the box. Most impressive! The projector does tend to be a little heavy on the reds and oversatuated. Reducing color saturation is easy. Reds get addressed with calibration.
Quoting from the full review: The SP-A600 does a very nice job out of the box...there is a slight overemphasis in the reds, just noticeable in skin tones.
It's been a long time since I've had a Z700 here, good thing I write things down! This from the review: I quickly concluded that "out of the box" picture quality was reasonably good, and definitely not great. Overall, without adjustment, the image is too warm (reddish). Shadow detail was also just good (which improved with a slight increase to the brightness setting).
A little more complicated to describe than most: I have to rate the "out of the box" picture quality as very good.
The reason is simple: If you want the best color right out of the box, we recommend the Natural mode, which really is very good. It may not produce the best black level performance (it's a lot brighter, too), but you should like the skin tones, and overall color balance.
I also said this: Sharp's Natural mode on the XV-Z15000 projector is, in terms of color accuracy, superior to most projectors' "best" mode, out of the box.
and in summary, this: the Sharp is one of the more watchable projectors without doing a color calibration
This Viewsonic Pro8100 did not produce especially good, accurate colors out of the box, in preliminary measurements. Although colors were off a bit, it was no worse than most projectors. It's been almost two years since I worked with the Viewsonic. In that time, more and more projectors have hit the market sporting better out of the box picture quality.
I figure these lowest cost 1080p projectors are the ones most likely to end up in the hands of folks who just want to fire'em up and enjoy. That works fine, as I wrote this about the H1080FD projector: The out of the box color is pretty good, which is a very good thing, since the Vivtek lacks the tradtional R,G,B brightness and contrast controls for doing a grayscale balance.
Another image from the Epson Home Cinema 8100. From The Dark Knight
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Above, BenQ W6000 image from Naria: Prince Caspian
The review said it all: Pretty good, the BenQ W6000 projector, right out of the box is very watchable, perhaps a touch thin on green, if you have Brilliant Color turned off.
Brilliant Color turned on, though is another matter. With it on, color temp is well off the mark, and very strong on reds, and still thin on greens. No matter, it's very fixable. This is a projector that takes extremely well to a calibration...Out of the box, the W6000 does crush the dark shadow detail, which is fixable with a slight increase in the brightness setting
The Cinetron was one of the weaker projectors right out of the box. Default is definitely a bit cool, and switching color temp to low moves it too far the other way, now too red. A calibration is needed to make this projector look very good.
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Oh boy: These new Epson projectors are pretty impressive right out of the box. I found the THX mode to be the best, although a little warm, but "smooth". Theater Black 1 - HD on the Pro Cinema 9500UB, was also very good. Actually we tested the identical (for these purposes) Pro Cinema 9500UB. Only the names of the modes are different. THX mode really is excellent. A good calibration can improve on it, mostly because of the variance from projector to projector, but, it's that good.
Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB
Hmm, same as above: These new Epson projectors are pretty impressive right out of the box. I found the THX mode to be the best, although a little warm, but "smooth". Theater Black 1 - HD on the Pro Cinema 9500UB, was also very good.
Epson Pro Cinema 9100
We worked with the Home Cinema 8100, which is identical for these purposes. The issue is, we worked with a pre-production sample, and the color tables were not finalized. We assume the finished Pro Cinema 9100 will have a very good, best mode, right out of the box.
Hmm, another "pretty good" projector. I'm going to have to expand my vocabulary, beyond pretty good, good, very good, and excellent. And yes, "pretty good" isn't as good as "good" (usually). As to the CF181D projector: The LG CF181D is pretty good, right out of the box. The color overall, of the "best" mode, Cinema, is just a little cool, so a touch more blues than reds. Overall, though, skin tones looked pretty good, but just lacking a bit of red.
Not so wonderful. I had written this: Picture quality is respectable, but hardly great, out of the box.
The HD8200 isn't bad, right out of the box, but the image is definitely on the cool side - too much blue, not enough red. Skin tones definitely show that bit of thinness in terms of red, tending to make people look as if under flourescent lighting. Oh, the picture is definitely watchable, but will improve significantly with a good calibration.
It was a long time ago when I wrote this: The Sanyo PLV-Z3000, out of the box provides a watchable image, but not a great one...Out of the box settings are a bit cool (shift away from red, to blue), and have a bit too much yellow green in the images.
Bingo, Sony's got their out of the box act together: Impressive, skin tones, right out of the box are pretty good, just a little strong on reds. Overall, the VPL-HW15 is very watchable right out of the box.
Above, from Space Cowboys, with the Panasonic PT-AE4000. Below, from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
This one is easy, I just wrote this a couple of weeks ago: Find the right preset mode, and the InFocus SP8602 looks very good out of the box...Let's get back to the "Out of the Box" picture quality: Yes, it's pretty impressive. The color is pretty consistent from white, down to the darkest levels. It is, though just a little cool - thin on red. Remember, just a little.
Too bad, of the three JVC projectors - only this one has less than stellar out of the box performance. The two more expensive projectors have THX modes... None the less, the out of the box performance of the DLA-RS15 projector: Very good, yet, can be much improved! Oh, it's true, put on Cinema 1 and most folks will just go wow. Those of us looking for pretty accurate color, and a higher level of performance though will definitely appreciate a calibration. Unlike the more expensive JVC projectors, the RS15 does not have a pre-calibrated THX mode.
Unlike the RS15, the JVC RS25 offers a THX mode, and that means really excellent out of the box performance. While a calibrator can improve on THX, that's likely because they would be calibrating the individual projector - not applying an average group of settings that should work across all the RS25s as they will vary from unit to unit, due to the lamps, and even other components.
People, remember that the RS35 is simply a better RS25. Again, you've got a THX mode which guarantees you great out of the box color accuracy.
From the HD8600 full review: Right out of the box, the HD8600 really does look pretty good. Definitely not the best color performance but definitely watchable. Overall, the image in Cinema 2 mode ("best" for our purposes), is a bit warm - strong on reds, but not too much so. Other than the slight extra reds, the skin tones looked pretty good.
No issues here. OK, this is one of the older reviews, and maufacturers are slowly moving to providing more accurate color "out of the box." I had this glowing statement for the Planar: The PD8150 is one of the best home theater projectors we've seen in the last couple of years when it comes to out of the box performance. Color accuracy is very good, but a touch on the warm (red) side, still it's very close to ideal, and very watchable.
It's a Sony, I guess we expect no less: Out of the box performance turns out to be especially good. Color temp hovers around the ideal 6500K, although after calibration, we get tighter results, just slightly improved. This is a projector you could live with just fine without having it professionally calibrated
Ahh, the one projector in this report that costs way more than our $10,000 maximum. I have more to say than this, but it keeps things simple:
Bottom line for the H9080FD, for out of the box performance. Overall color and skin tones are good to very good, but definitely visibly improvable.
Image above from the JVC DLA-RS15, Lord of the Rings (the only movie images in this review that are not from Blu-ray disc).
The image below is from the movie Quantum of Solace, the projector used is the JVC RS35.
1080p Home Theater Projectors: Natural Skin Tones
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
More quotes from the reviews, plus some additional comments:
The review states: Skin tones are very good. There is a very slight, touch too much red to faces For a "home entertainment projector" - a really bright projector suitable for family rooms, bonus rooms, and other non-dedicated theaters, the skin tones prove to be very good.
Epson Home Cinema 8100
The Epson Home Cinema 8100 calibrated very nicely. Skin tones ended up looking very good, but could be a touch better. Mike's calibration tends to leave the skin tones with just the slightest green tint. We don't calibrate the individual colors, where one would work to remove that slight tinge, due to oversaturated greens.
skin tones proved to be excellent. While not the best we've seen, definitely better than most similarly priced 3LCD and DLP projectors. Skin tones are rich, accurate, and... I think that about covers it.
The HD20, post calibration, does extremely well in terms of skin tones. In that regard I would put it on par with the recently reviewed and more expensive new Samsung SP-A600. Actually the skin tones were most impressive, considering this is (tied) the lowest priced 1080p projector on the market.
In the PT-AE4000 review I wrote: After Mike's calibration, skin tones were really very good, but there remained a touch of red push. I'm talking very minor, but it looks that, perhaps due to their new warmer color lamp design. Mike indicated that to remove that last bit, would require calibrating the individual colors, which we normally don't do. Believe me, the picture and skin tones look just fine. I'm just nitpicking a bit. Panasonic projectors have typically offered nicely accurate skin tones, that look very natural.
Samsung has done well on skin tones in the past, and again with the A600: As I noted above, color accuracy was pretty good even before calibration. Post calibration, skin tones are very impressive!
That said, after Mike calibrated the grayscale, there was still a bit of red emphasis in the skin tones...All considered, I was most pleased with the skin tones although there was still room for slight improvement if viewed critically.
I was generally very pleased with the PLV-Z700's skin tones. In the review, I commented: "Skin tones turned out to be extremely good overall, although in low lit scenes, it seemed they shifted just a little bit too much to red."
I certainly liked the Sharp: Movie 2 mode on the XV-Z15000 does a very good job on skin tones once you input our calibration changes. In fact, "very good" is most likely an understatement. I've watched a lot of movies with this Sharp, and find little fault with its handling of a wide range of skin tones.
Definitely off a bit, before any adjustments, and made worse by the oversaturation, but once the projector gets even a basic grayscale calibration and the saturation is toned down, it starts looking really good on skin tones.
Upon close inspection: Skin tones are very good. There is a very slight, almost paleness to faces [like Gandalf's below], due to the touch less red than there should be. When viewing, the projector doesn't really feel like it's a little thin on red, as the image has a good bit of contrast, and a lot of punch.
Bottom LIne: Even the least of the projectors these days does a pretty good job. If I had to be pinned down as to which three of these 10 projectors had the best looking skin tones, overall, I think I'd have to go with the Panasonic, the Mitsubishi HC3800 and the Sharp XV-Z15000.
Above, of the Epson Home Cinema 8100, from The Dark Knight
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
That's right, I like the skin tones even with Brilliant Color on, but especially with it off: I slightly preferred the skin tones, post calibration, with Brilliant Color off. Overall skin tones really were impressive. Rich without being over the top, and very natural looking. With Brilliant Color on, the skin tone color wasn't quite as right, but minor tweaking can probably solve that problem. Brilliant Color gives the image some more kick, and with it just a tad less natural looking skin tones
From the review: Bottom line on skin tones: Impressive. A calibration, (or try our calibration numbers), definitely makes a significant difference...After calibration though, the numbers and the balance between red and blue, become very, very good...
While the Cinetron HD700 doesn't have the most perfect color accuracy around, it certainly is very competitive. I did a fair amount of switching between the HD700 and my JVC RS20 - a projector roughly 3x the price. While the skin tones never looked as good as my JVC, I must admit, that, compared to the JVC, they always looked at least respectable
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
The Pro Cinema 9500UB I've got here is the basis for these comments on the effectively identical 8500UB: I'm finding the skin tones of the Home Cinema 8500UB projector to be a touch better than the older 6500UB especially when viewing side by side. With the 6500UB, overall skin tones were very good, but not the best. Sometimes they leaned a tad to "over the top", and this probably relates to the general dynamic look that Epsons seem to have...the 8500UB skin tones look more correct, in that regard, than the projector it replaces. Let's say it's a touch more "film-like" in terms of skin tones.
Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB
Instant replay, from above: I'm finding the skin tones of the Home Cinema 8500UB projector to be a touch better than the older 6500UB especially when viewing side by side. With the 6500UB, overall skin tones were very good, but not the best. Sometimes they leaned a tad to "over the top", and this probably relates to the general dynamic look that Epsons seem to have...the 8500UB skin tones look more correct, in that regard, than the projector it replaces. Let's say it's a touch more "film-like" in terms of skin tones.
Epson Pro Cinema 9100
Not quite as good as the more expensive UB: Same as I just said above about the Home Cinema 8100: The Epson Home Cinema 8100 calibrated very nicely. Skin tones ended up looking very good, but could be a touch better. Mike's calibration tends to leave the skin tones with just the slightest green tint. We don't calibrate the individual colors, where one would work to remove that slight tinge, due to oversaturated greens.
Skin tones and overall color are a key reason the LG picked up one of our top awards: Great skin tones. I am extremely pleased. I've watched tons of hours of Olympics with the LG, as well as at least 20 hours of movies. The LG has some of the best skin tones I've seen. Not the very best, but up there. I still give my own JVC the advantage, after calibration, but, I found the LG has no problem taking on projectors like the Epson (which exhibits just a touch of yellow green in skin tones), or the Sony HW15, with its just a touch too strong reds. It's probably comparable to the PT-AE4000, but the LG is just so much brighter...
Not quite as perfect as I would have liked. I had Mike take two shots at calibrating the projector. After the first pass, the skin tones were pleasant, but almost a slightly gold tinge to them. It was still there but at a more acceptable level, after Mike's second attempt.
My key statement in the review: "Post calibration, flesh (skin) tones are excellent. I found the HC7000 to really look good on all types of skin tones, in a wide variety of movies and other content." What more could you ask for?
While the HD8200 didn't pick up any major awards, skin tone handling wasn't the problem: I wrote: Once the HD8200 has been calibrated, the balance between red and blue, becomes excellent, and skin tones now look extremely good. They look good enough, that once or twice, (since I change projectors frequently when reviewing), I could occasionally forget that I had the HD8200 up, and not my reference JVC RS20, at least in terms of accurate skin tones.
Right from last year's comments: The PLV-Z3000 managed to still have a very slight color shift to yellow green after calibration, and it can be noticed in skin tones. I suspect a more in-depth calibration can solve that, however. In the review I stated: "Post calibration, skin tones are very good, given the slight yellow-green emphasis. I find that in Pure Cinema mode, however, (perhaps, in part due to limited brightness), that faces tend to look a little dark and flat".
Remember, we tend to quibble over fine points, for the hard core enthusiast that cares about every minor flaw. In other words, don't get me wrong, this one looks pretty good too.
In the VPL-HW15 projector's review the comments included: After calibration, skin tones were excellent, and, while not the very best I've seen, certainly better than most, including almost all other home theater projectors selling for under $3000.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
The InFocus Screen Play 8602 looks great on skin tones. At the moment, only the RS25 and RS35 of the dozen plus projectors sitting here, can match or potentially beat the SP8602 when it comes to skin tones. I wrote this about it, in the recent review: Quite honestly, Mike's calibration of the SP8602 resulted in a great picture. Still, I don't think over all, that the colors are quite as excellent as the InFocus IN83 projector, which I had here for a very long time, but never managed to put another projector up against it that had better, more natural color. That said, after his calibration I'd have to say the SP8602, in terms of skin tones, may well be the next best (in fairness, how perfect, will depend on what approach the calibrator takes). In my statement above, relating to the two JVCs, for the InFocus SP8602 to be right up there, Brilliant Color needs to be Off.
With our calibration giving us a much more accurate, and more consistent color temperature, the skin tones of the RS15 are looking to be truly excellent. The projector just looks vibrant on skin tones. Not the dark vibrant, that is associated (by me) with the DLP "look and feel" but more of a mid and bright range vibrance. In this regard, it is more vibrant than even the more expensive JVCs, which seem a touch "dark" overall, by comparison.
Excellent skin tones. THX mode does a great job, but our individual calibration even slightly improved on that. Between the RS25 and the InFocus SP8602 I can't really tell you which has the better skin tones. The dynamics are slightly different, despite the overall colors being close and equally natural looking.
Same as the RS25, of course.
Very nice. Post calibration the skin tones on this Optoma are expecially impressive. Some of the best I've seen. I still hold the InFocus IN83 in awe, in this regard, but the HD8600 comes close. At the time I wrote it, I also mentioned, that at the moment, I even slightly preferred the HD8600's skin tones to my RS20s. For clarification, my RS20 was calibrated when the lamp was almost brand new. With about 800 hours on it by the time I was watching the HD8600, colors had shifted, however slightly, due to the lamp aging.
Remember, we found the PD8150 to be one of the very best in terms of accuracy, out of the box (last year -art). Relating to skin tones, my comment in the review: "After calibration, the image was even better, removing almost all of the slight shift towards red. The end result was excellent handling of skin tones, as the images below show..."
I really liked this Sony, but for a touch of red: It's those reds, darn! Despite that small extra touch of reds evident in most skin tones, I'd say skin tones look extremely good. Understand how we work here. Mike takes the projectors and calibrates them. Very slight differences in how a calibrator approach things give slightly different results. While, for example, the color temp numbers are right on, slightly different individual color settings will provide similar, but different final tonal balance.
The Vivitek really did a great job: Once calibrated skin tones turn out to be excellent. I didn't say much more about them, rather spent most of the wordage trying to explain why a projector with great color has one of the worst looking sets of photos, in the review. I do believe something about the LED light source is driving my camera crazy, but it looks great on the screen.
Above: Men In Black - Mitsubishi HC7000
Black Levels & Shadow Detail
In this section, I'll discuss the combination of black level performance and shadow detail as one. Overall, some of these projectors do a little better (after normal adjustment), than others, in terms of shadow detail. That said, I consider those differences to be rather minor. Of far greater concern, is the black level performance. Often, after calibration, it is the black level performance that really separates these projectors from each other, far more so than other attributes. Thus - to a large degree, great black levels continues to be the quest for the "holy grail" of projector performance. Note, for those of you not familiar, the old CRT home theater projectors (from years ago), due to CRT technology, do essentially perfect black levels. All these fixed display projectors (3LCD, DLP, LCoS), by comparison, cannot produce a true black, so the quest to get as close as possible, still dominates home theater projector design.
I'll be referring to what I call "ultra-high-contrast" projectors quite a bit in this section, so a quick warning: I'll start referring to those as UHC projectors from time to time, to save keystrokes.
Above, from the DVE-HD test disc, projector: Sanyo PLV-Z700
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Only two of the projectors in this group qualify as what I refer to as "ultra-high-contrast" projectors. The Panasonic, an LCD projector, and, the Sharp XV-Z15000 a DLP projector. The Panasonic does have the best blacks and very good shadow detail, compared to other projectors in this class.
Below from the Stargaze HD disc, with the PT-AE4000 projector.
The BenQ had perfectly good shadow detail, and the worst black levels of the 10 projectors in this class. Let's face it, the BenQ is also the brightest projector in the report this year. The BenQ W1000 breed of projector is going to be found hanging around in family rooms and bonus rooms. The presumption is you need all those 2000+ lumens because you've got to deal with some real, ambient light. While better black levels are always a good thing, and provide a better picture, when there's a decent amount of ambient light present, it's going to negate almost all of the advantage of a projector with much better blacks. In other words, if you are using this as expected, the black levels are acceptable.
Epson Home Cinema 8100
Epson certainly cranked up the spec on the contrast, so everyone was expecting a substantial improvement in blacks. Turns out they only improved slightly since all the improvement was from the dynamic iris. Ultimately, this year's 8100 can do a slightly blacker black on the darkest scenes, but there's no noticeable change in most mixed scenes. That said, the 8100's black level performance, is very good, but still a little shy of being a UHC (ultra-high contrast) projector. The Epson is easily superior to projectors like the low cost DLPs as well as the Sanyo PLV-Z700, the Samsung, and probably a little better than the Viewsonic. On the other hand, it definitely still comes up short of the true UHC Panasonic PT-AE4000
Epson's never been great on dark shadow detail. Seems they always lose a tiny bit. Well, that helps give their image all that pop and wow, but the Epson Home Cinema 8100, ultimately, comes up a bit short of most of these other projectors, in regard to shadow detail.
Not sure how Mitsubishi did it, but the HC3800 has really good blacks for a basic DLP projector without a dynamic iris. It just blows away the other four DLP's in this group, that lack dynamic irises. Of the DLP projectors in this class, only the iris equipped Sharp does a bit better in blacks. The Mitsubishi HC3800 may not quite be able to do as black as black as the Epson on the darkest scenes, but on most, mostly dark scenes, the HC3800 can best the Epson. In other words, these two are comparable, but different. The HC3800's dark shadow detail is very good.
With the HD20 AI operating, the HD20 can do some very nice dark blacks. But the visible action of ImageAI I find to be sufficiently noticeable that I recommended not using it. After turning it off, you are left with a basic DLP. It's going to do slightly better blacks than the other two $999 projectors, but the rest of the field will best it.
Winner! The PT-AE4000 really should be in the next group of projectors when one speaks of black levels. The black level performance of the PT-AE4000 is noticeably better than than all but one other projector in this class, and both blow away most of the others. The Panny is the most expensive projector in this class, and when it comes to black level performance, this is a true ultra-high contrast projector (though hardly the best). When separating the men from the boys, in black levels, the Panny is definitely one of the men. Nothing wrong with the dark shadow detail either. Not the very best, but close, definitely a bit better than the Epson 8100.
I was disappointed with the black level performance of the Samsung. It really didn't do any better than most of the lower cost DLPs, and it's blacks are no match for the several hundred dollar less Mitsubishi HC3800. Shadow detail, on the other hand, was very good.
While the Sanyo's shadow detail was very good, In the review, I wrote of being slightly disappointed with the black level performance of the Sanyo Z700. Not bad mind you, and better than the least expensive projectors in this class, including the three $999 DLPs. Still, it's not much better than the best of those.
Great black level performance! The Sharp XV-Z15000 is perhaps the best of the projectors in this class. The other one, of course, is the PT-AE4000. I'm not sure which has the edge. I had indicated last year, that the Sharp was at least the equal to the older PT-AE3000, but the PT-AE4000 did slightly improve black levels over its predecessor. Let's call them more different than better worse, and together, they are at the head of the Class.
Not bad at blacks. Definitely no match for the two champs, but should be about in the middle of the rest. Most likely the older Pro8100 is not quite a match for the Epson Home Cinema 8100 or the Mitsubishi HC3800, but it still will best the entry level DLP projetors and should be at least as good as the Sanyo PLV-Z700. Shadow detail, on the other hand was particularly good, at least compared to the competition almost two years ago.
The almost twin to the BenQ W1000, the Vivitek is the better of the two in terms of blacks performance. This is most likely due to the faster color wheel, of the Vivitek, and lower lumens. It should, however come up a little short of the Optoma HD20. Shadow detail was in plentiful supply, as is typical of projectors with modest black level performance.
Below, from Men In Black with the Epson Home Cinema 8100, and below it, Aeon Flux on the Vivitek H1080FD.
Above, two consecutive frames (I can't remember which was first) before/after a lightning flash. Projector: Mitsubishi HC5500.
Bottom Line: If your budget won't let you go over $2,000, and you're planning a room that has good lighting control, and you want really dark blacks, then your two top choices are the Sharp XV-Z15000 and the Panasonic PT-AE4000. If room conditions or other factors reduce the importance of that next step in black level performance, then it's the Mitsubishi and the Epson. The rest are all very entry level at blacks even though there's still enough differences to notice.
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
The W6000 is a UHC (ultra high contrast) projector from my subjective standpoint. Not the best in this class, it's black level performance will still come up shy of the two Epson UBs, and the Mitsubishi HC7000, but it's real close to the Mits, and probably the equal of the less expensive Panasonic PT-AE4000. The W6000's dynamic iris can close down pretty far. Feed it a really dark scene like the Casino Royale night train scene I use, and it can get right down there with the Epson UB, but on not a lot of dark scenes that aren't all very dark, it can't match the Epson. The large range of the W6000 was also responsible for the rough iris action on really dark scenes when I reviewed the pre-production unit. The fix to the iris that they released, made a huge improvement. So, great black levels for an under $2500 projector. No projector near its price can beat it's blacks by more than a little, and it easily beats most of the competition.
Shadow detail was very good. It not only easily bested the Epson UB projectors, but even slightly outdid the Sony VPL-HW15.
Strictly entry level blacks - right down there with the $999 projectors. Definitely disappointing blacks for a projector retailing for about $2500. Shadow detail was fine, as expected on any projector with not very good blacks. The black level performance is the weakest link of the HD700 projector.
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Now we're talking. Three years in a row, Epson has offered up projectors that have been truly superior to the similarly priced competition. Oh, there are one or two others in this group that give the Epsons a run for the money, but the Epson definitely finishes first when we're talking black level performance! The BenQ W6000, and the Mitsubishi HC7000 come close, but only compared to the rest of the field. The Epson is the black level champ, and you are going to have to spring for something almost twice the price to do better. Hey, most projectors twice the price still can't match the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB for blacks.
Epson shadow detail has never been the best. They always seem to lose just a touch more than most. I believe that, combined with the great blacks, helps give the Epson the rep of a lot of pop and wow.
Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB
Exactly the same as the Home Cinema 8500UB!
Epson Pro Cinema 9100
The Pro Cinema 9100's performance despite the 36,000:1 contrast ratio, doesn't make the cut as an ultra-high contrast projector. That is to say, its black level performance, while very respectable, isn't up in that top tier of performers where most really dark scenes still have a good amount of contrast and pop. Shadow detail is pretty good (better than the UBs), but still not among the best.
The best way to describe the Epson Pro Cinema 9100 in terms of black levels would be one as of the best non-UHC projectors.
Oh, if only the LG CF181D was better at black level performance. Still the LG didn't do badly, but not a UHC projector. As best I could describe them, I said they were a little better than the Mitsubishi HC3800, about half way between the 3800 and the Panasonic. It's not even remotely up there with the Epson UB, or the far more expensive JVCs. Shadow detail was not a problem, The dynamic iris itself was pretty smooth. Combine that with the not spectacular blacks and I conjecture that the LG's iris isn't setup to shut down as far as the irises on most other projectors.
Black levels are just good, I'm still working with the HC6800, but I don't believe blacks are any better than the Epson 8100 and 9100. Shadow detail, however, is better than most.
It's been a long time, since Mitsubishi did not replace the HC7000 last fall. When reviewed, blacks were, in the general price range at the time, second only to the Epson 6500UB and 7500UB, and definitely better than the still very good, Panasonic PT-AE3000 (and probably still a touch better than the newer PT-AE4000, and defiinitely superior to the Sanyo PLV-Z3000. Of course the JVCs bested even the Epsons (and rather easily).
The end result - the HC7000 may still be the 2nd best at black levels in the class, in fact it probably is. Shadow detail was never a problem.
The black level performance of the HD8200 isn't the issue, it's the iris. I found it to be very annoying occasionally. Now I realize I'm a lot pickier than most, but, the HD8200 iris definitely has some quirks. It's what ruined the projector for me. Turn off the iris and the HD8200 can still do some decent blacks but not so good as to rationalize the price point the HD8200 is at, when you consider some of the competition (such as the BenQ W6000).
In last year's report, Sanyo's PLV-Z3000 was the UHC projector with the least impressive blacks (which is still to say, really very good). Well, nothing's changed. I still think of it as where one draws the line. That means, that while blacks could still be a lot better, you've found a projector where you can start weighing improving other aspects of projector quality, a bit heavier than further black level improvement.
The Sony makes the cut. Call it an ultra-high contrast projector. Though it still falls short of the Epson, it's probably right there with the Panasonic, or a tad better, which isn't a bad place to be. When it comes to shadow detail I had simply said " the Sony VPL-HW15 does really well".
Above, from National Treasure, Epson Home Cinema 8500UB. Below, from The Fifth Element, Sony VPL-HW15
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Wow! All eight projectors in the class this year, are considered ultra high contrast projectors. That's right, all have at least extremely good blacks, light years ahead of the entry level projectors. It may not matter much at all on a typical well lit scene, but when scenes get dark, some projectors look far better than others.
Above, from Casino Royale - Projector: InFocus SP8602
InFocus is back, and their IN83 replacement, the SP8602 sports a dynamic iris, and better blacks than its predecessor. Black levels are just decent relative to the other UHC projectors. That said, we're still talking pretty black blacks. Even with its dynamic iris the SP8602 comes up a little short of the JVC RS15, a direct competitor. Shadow detail is excellent!
The least of the JVC projectors, the RS15 can be thought of - when it comes to black level performance - a standard, that so far, perhaps only one other non JVC projector has bested. No dynamic iris needed, it can still do better - darker, blacks, than the Epson UB projectors at their best. Only the Sony VW85, and JVC's own more expensive projectors can do a blacker black. Shadow detail is good, not the very best.
Magnificently dark blacks, the RS25 does the best job I've ever seen. The RS25 seems to be just a smidgeon, or maybe even a bit better at blacks than my own RS20, its predecessor. And I do love the blacks of the RS20. Not only are the blacks really dark, they are very neutral, not visible slight presence of blue or red in the very darkest areas. Shadow detail is very good, although the darkest shadow detail is awefully hard to see because its so much darker than with most other projectors.
Exactly what I said about the RS25, except that the RS35 would seem to be even better. Although I didn't have the RS25 and RS35 here at the same time, I ran them both against my RS20. No question, the RS35 has blacker blacks than my RS20, and by a bit more than the RS25.
The HD8600 is no slouch when it comes to black level performance, but also, not a star. It qualifies as a UHC projector although its down at the bottom of the range. It can't quite match the blacks of the less expensive PT-AE4000. Shadow detail is very good. I would say typical for a projector with its black level performance.
I said last year that the PD8150 had the best blacks of any of the DLP projectors in the report. The Planar was impressive when I reviewed it. Compared to this years crop of projector, it should work out to being about equal to the InFocus SP8602. It relies on a dynamic iris, but still comes up short of the JVC RS15. Shadow detail is very good.
Impressive! Sony still hasn't figured out JVC's trick of outstanding black levels without the use of a dynamic irs, but they are improving their projector's performance, in the case of the VW85. The VW85 is outstanding! The blacks, on the scenes where irises are most effective (very dark ones - no bright areas), the VW85 comes close to the RS25. I can't think of a single other non JVC projector I can say that about. If other aspects of the Sony appeal to you more than the same features on the JVC, the difference in blacks won't be enough to convince you to go with the JVC. Sony has narrowed the gap. Of course, great blacks without a dynamic iris is still better than great blacks with one.
Above, from The Dark Knight: JVC DLA-RS20
Overall Color & Picture Quality
Is the sum of the parts greater? These are my thoughs about the picture in general, including color, black levels, shadow detail, film like and other qualities. I'm going to keep this very short, since I consider this to a large degree to be subjective. Instead of going into each projector, and trying to describe its overall Color and Picture Quality, I'll comment on them together. In some cases I'll mention the brighter modes, especially for sports and general HDTV/TV viewing, where I see something special.
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Last year most of the projector in this entry level class were fairly comparable. This year, there's a tremendous range of picture quality.
If you are shopping in this price range, you'll find that the two most expensive projectors are the ones that will give you the best performance, but a couple of others do a great job, for a good bit less.
At the top of the food chain, I like the Panasonic. It's a really fine projector for the average person, and it's also a very good one for the enthusiast. The picture is film-like, with very good skin tones. The Panasonic pretty much has the best blacks of the under $2K projectors. Overall, the Panny is natural looking, but not overly dynamic. Lacks the pop of a lot of other projectors.
Despair not, if you want some of that pop! If you are a smaller screen person, the picture of the Sharp XV-Z15000 is going to look just great - it's got that pop and wow, but it isn't bright enough for large screens. The Epson Home Cinema 8100 calibrates nicely, however, in terms of skin tones, the Epson tends to look just a touch "hard" compared to, say the Panasonic. (I'm quibbling here, most folks would think nothing of it.) And while I'm thinking about that "hardness", it's certainly no harder than any DLP projector with Brilliant Color engaged. You can always count on the Epson image to have more pop and wow factor than "natural".
If you really want to rock the house, the Mitsubishi HC3800's has really impressive color plus lots of lumens, for a dynamic image. The Mits definitely pops! It's rich darker colors are very DLP classic. When it comes to overall picture quality for under $1500 it's going to be tough to beat. Black levels are probably the best I've ever seen on a lower cost DLP that lacks a dynamic iris.
Of the three $999 projectors it stacks up this way: If you take the trouble to get them calibrated, or (more likely) use our settings, then I think you'll find that the Optoma and the BenQ will have slightly better color than the Vivitek. The Optoma will have the best blacks slightly over the the Vivitek and more so over the BenQ. The poor Vivitek is caught in the middle. (Brightness will be a key factor for people considering those three.)
It's almost like three price ranges, in one, when i comes to overall picture quality. Lots to choose from depending on the bucks. Start, though by figuring out which ones will work for your room layout.
Above, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, the projector is the Sony VW85
$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Let's start with the Best In Class. That would be the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB. There's also the mostly identical Pro Cinema 9500UB, but it's more money for mostly three differences that matter to only a small percentage of buyers. For that reason, we gave the 9500UB a Special Interest award.
Yes, it's true: You can't beat the black level performance (of the Epson) without spending thousands more.
Color handling is certainly extremely good, but, as I've said repeatedly, if you insist on the the most dead on colors, and "film-like" natural look, the Epson comes up a little short, but it's well backed by lots of lumens for an LCD projector.
If, your situation, though requires more brightness, that is, if you really want that more natural look without giving up lumens, and aren't as black level crazy, you really should take a close look at the LG CF181D. Bright, great color, good blacks for the price range, (but no match at all, for the Epson). A sweet ride, especially for someone going with a large screen and a HC gray screen at that, to lower the black levels. OK, the LG sounds great, but what about the projector that it tied with, the W6000 from BenQ. Another exceptionally bright projector, it definitely can do battle with the LG, it at least matches it at black levels, has tones of lumens too, and is razor sharp, something still basically beyond the sharpness found on current LCoS projectors.
The LG picture might be a tad more refined than the BenQ, but the BenQ has them "look and feel" including rich dark colors and image depth that gives the BenQ projector some real bragging rights.
The thing is, this price class is dripping with impressive projectors. Let's not forget the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 a UHC projector at the bottom of the price range, not overly bright, but has a very strong following among smaller screen enthusiasts. (And that's despite the fact that we weren't able to get the colors quite as good as hoped, when we reviewed.)
Another really strong contender, that just missed a major reward (if that LG had arrived two weeks later - it wouldn't have been reviewed in time for the report), is the Sony HW15. This SXRD (LCos) projector is the latest version (HW10, and before that the VW40...) of Sony's "entry level" 1080p projector. It shares many of the same traits as the LG, and even has slightly better black level performance, but in general, I didn't find the slight black improvement enough to offset having a similar projector roughly twice as bright. The HW15, for example would be an excellent alternative, and even possibly the better choice over the LG for someone with a smaller screen, or a mid-sized screen and watching movies almost exclusively. The Sony just doesn't have the muscle for a lot of HDTV sports with some lights on.
And, finally, just in case you still aren't confused enough, there's the rather impressive Optoma HD8200. But for dynamic iris action that I thought was just a little too over the top, it's an excellent DLP, although not a bright one. It's not even quite as bright as the Sony (the Optomas about 500 lumens in best but a second worst in class 660 lumens in brightest mode. For those with white walls, (where much of the darker blacks are lost to reflected light), turn off the iris, and enjoy a really good projector. If you want the best reason for considering the Optoma over the Sony, or the lower cost Mitsubishi HC6800, it will be the razor sharp image, that the other two lack.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Above: Hunt for Red October - JVC DLA-RS25
Most things come into play, when I discuss overall picture quality. As I said up above somewhere, it's more than just the color accuracy and black levels and shadow detail. Sharpness is a factor, and so is brightness. And that brings us to the Best In Class first.
I have to say, it's at least tie for the two most important factors (by my reckoning) - color and black level performance. OK the RS35 may have plenty of "best" mode lumens, but it's definitely "thin" when it comes to brightest. The point I'm making is that it's not perfect, by any means. Still, all those hand picked components yield that sharpest image I've ever seen from a 3 chip LCoS or LCD projector, and it's up there with the typical single chip DLP, although not quite up to the sharpest. It meets, though, my definition of "sharper still", rather that the "average" of all the other LCD and LCoS. The overall picture quality of the JVC RS35 and, of course, its twin from the consumer division, the JVC HD990. Hey, and as an added bonus this year you get creative frame interpolation, which has to be considered part of image quality as well, even if most of us don't use it a lot.
OK, though, it's $10,000 - what about for less? Well, get the same, excellent color from the DLA-RS25 or the DLA-950. The biggest difference you give up is that extra sharpness. Still a first class projector, and, I remind you, the improved version of the RS20 that I use in my main theater (yeah, I'm biased - I tend to buy what I like best). Or you could drop down below $5000 for the DLA-RS15 (or the HD550). The color won't be quite as good as the other two, and the blacks won't be either, but after that, it's pretty much like the RS25.
In some of the categories there's some really fierce competition in this class of projector. The InFocus, isn't the sharpest DLP around, but easily bests all the LCoS projectors (except the 2x expensive RS35). Color is very first class, though not as perfect as our calibration last year of the IN83, I don't think anything since has looked better than the SP8602, , when it comes to color accuracy, including the JVCs.
The InFocus has the pop, the wow, the natural look and the depth of image. It's a classic, and first class DLP projector, however, it's blacks are just basic UHC. It can't, for example match the less expensive Epson at blacks or the JVCs (actually it can achieve a slightly blacker black than the RS15, on the very darkest scenes, but not enough difference to quibble about). All those lumens though, guarantee a bright, dynamic image. To get them, though, the proper positioning is very important, as well learned. When it comes to picture, I really, really enjoyed the InFocus, despite the only "extremely good" blacks. And oh, baby, properly mounted, this projector has brightness for your HDTV and sports that easily is brighter than the next closest, and almost twice as bright as many of the others.
Hmm, what else is good, I really liked the Planar PD8150 last year, but it remains unchanged, and is still not very bright. It could be argued that the Planar, though lacking lumens, is as good as the InFocus, I believe their black level performance is comparable. But then, we do consider price (in giving out awards), which is a key reason the InFocus pushed the Planar out of contention (three thousand dollars does a lot of pushing).
1080p Projectors: Viewing HDTV, TV and Especially, Sports
Lumens! You can't watch a lot of sports and HDTV content with out a lot of lumens!
Caves are places where people go to watch movies. Ideally a cave is some isolated room in your home that can be fully darkened. That folks is how to watch movies - in a cave like environment, nice and dark, perfect for mushrooms.
Then you switch your source to HDTV, to watch some March Madness with 5 or 6 friends, and - you can't see them, it's too dark (ok, you can see them, but its still too dark, for normal conversation, etc.) - no party atmosphere.
So, what do you do? Turn on the lights, open a window, and pray your projector has the brightness to cope. At least though, you can see your friends, and converse easily.
But you still want really sharp, and good color. Let's face it do we really care if skin tones rate a 10, 9, or even a 7 out of 10, when we are watching a football game? Exactly! It's the game that counts, and if the coaches face is a touch red, that could be the projector, (or maybe the aftermath of him screaming at some player).
Thus, projector brightness is a key factor, and most of us are willing to sacrifice some black levels, even color accuracy, for a nice bright image. We don't care about blacks much at all for sports but that's not the case for, say Travel HD or Discovery HD, or Paladia HD channels.
Above, Pete Townsend (The Who) on HDTV, the projector is the Mitsubishi HC3800
For my comments I'm assuming a typical screen of about 100 inch diagonal. All of the projectors have enough muscle to handle that size for movies, but some may struggle in terms of brightness with some intentional ambient light present. Some of the least expensive projectors are the brightest. Hmm, most of those are really home projectors or home entertainment projectors, that is, defining them slightly differently from home theater projectors (where the presumption should be a cave-like room).
So what do we have here, let's take on the field, projector by projector. I'll be short, as we don't have to get into some of the subtleties, that would concern us with movie viewing. And since sports viewing is crazier than most movie viewing, I'll take a few liberties in my wordsmithing, to have some fun. And note, below, I've labeled a few projectors has Home Projectors rather than Home Theater Projectors. Those Home projectors are the ones more likely to be found in typically in bonus and family rooms without perfect lighting control.
Below, photo of Optoma HD20 screen.
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
BenQ W1000 Home Projector
The BenQ is the brightest projector of any measured for this report. It's basically a "crossover" projector, while blacks may not be impressive, this guy lights up a room with over 2000 lumens in brightest mode, and still some respectable color. (Looks better than the typical LCDTV at Best Buy, when it comes to color accuracy.) This guy is great for the bucks, for sports, and still very good for tougher HDTV viewing as long as you avoid a lot of dark underwater Discovery HD content (that's when you'd want better blacks). The image is sharp. For sports fanatics, sports are bright, the slow color wheel on this DLP probably won't bother even those more sensitive to the rainbow effect. (But the 2x wheel will be an issue for just about anyone rainbow sensitive if you are watching dark scenes with fast moving bright objects.) You can hang these suckas in sport bars and they will look outstanding.
Another image from the HC3800 above.
Epson Home Cinema 8100 Home Theater Projector
The Epson is well rounded for HDTV and sports. True, its maximum under 1400 lumens is only 2/3 of the BenQ (the brightest), but still healthy and one of the brighter projectors (in "brightest mode) in the entire review. Very good blacks get the job done for movies as well, but defintely work on those darker Discovery HD scenes. Hey, I pulled down my JVC this Superbowl, and put up the more expensive Epson UB (same brightness, mostly same everything, but black levels - which in this case didn't matter), for our annual party.
If I have one complaint about the Epson for sports and all digital content from HDTV and it's one shared with every LCoS and LCD projector under $9990 - and that is, it could be a touch sharper.
There would have been no noticeable difference between the 8100 and the UB for the entire day's viewing. I worked out great. It filled my screen, with some shades partially open. My JVC would have required them all closed to be comparable. Made for a much more fun party, having those lumens. BTW, in the 2nd half, when the sun is no longer coming into the room, I changed the Epson Home Cinema 8100 from Dynamic (brightest) to LivingRoom mode (2nd brightest, with still about 1100 lumens. With that mode, color became very good, (get's rid of some excess green).
Not that my audience would notice! Hey, it's a key reason I like the 8100, it's versatile, and pretty bright when you need it.
Mitsubishi HC3800 Home Theater Projector
To watch sports you've got a "brightest mode" when needed. That said, the HC3800 in "best" mode, with Brilliant Color on (you would definitely have it on if you have some ambient light in the room, even a little), manages to put out about 950 lumens You get an extra 200 in brightest mode which will help when needed. Color is still pretty good in "brighest". Ok, it's not a blinding amount of lumens, but a healthy amount. The clean black level performance and very good color, combining with a really sharp image, makes this a sweet ride for sports and HDTV. It can look truly exceptional for the bucks on all that Discovery HD, etc. content. I really like this projector!
Optoma HD20 Home Projector
Yes, the HD20 is more of a Home Projector, than a Home Theater Projector. It's not really the price, but the performance. The HD20 has a faster color wheel than the other under $1000 projectors, and they offer their ImageAI dynamic brightness (which I find to be too distracting, I wouldn't use it), so it "feels" like a dedicated home theater projector. What it really is, is a home projector (family room, bonus room, spare bedroom), for those with smaller screens. It doesn't have the lumens to fight ambient light on larger screens as it still has just less than 1000 lumens in "brightest" mode. Color is good, blacks are so so, (actually fairly respectable with AI engaged (I'll still take the HC3800). Even with its entry level price, the sharpness is still very good, as expected from a single chip DLP, and you'll appreciate that sharpness on all digital HDTV content, and certainly on HDTV sports.
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Home Theater Projector
A great overall projector, but sports and HDTV viewing is not its best strength. That's in a large part due to the lack of lumens. If you actually wanted to use best mode for programming like Discovery HD, you'd only have 430 measured lumens, and for sports - the 930 lumens is not quite average for a brightest mode (across all projectors in the report), and is the second dimmest in this class - besting the Viewsonic by a whopping, can you count them, 8 extra lumens.
The Panasonic PT-AE4000 is just average in sharpness. Actually their SmoothScreen technology makes the pixel structure completely invisible at normal viewing distances, a real plus, but it does make for one of the softest looking images. Those craving a really sharp (and bright) image for sports and digital content, will probably be happier with a different projector, if that's their main concern.
The Panasonic may be (my humble opinion) the best overall projector in this class, but it definitely isn't my first, or 2nd... choice for HDTV/sports. And I say that despite the fact that it is the only projector in this class to offer creative frame interpolation to smooth out motion. Panasonic does CFI especially well, and it is a feature I like using for sports viewing.
So, don't kid yourself, on the right sized screen, in good room (for the projector) your friends will still be dropping their jaws. (Here's something to pause and reflect on - if HDTV/Sports is your thing, consider the Panasonic against the $500 more expensive (mid-priced class) LG... hmm!
Samsung SP-A600 Home Theater Projector
The SP-A600 is a perfectly good projector, and being a DLP, has a really nice sharp image. Lumens are average (about 700, 1000), so nothing to write home about there. Color is very good. Other aspects not withstanding, you have to ask yourself, this, if HDTV/Sports is your thing: "what is there about the Samsung, that would make me choose it over the less expensive Mitsubishi HC3800. If you figure out that answer, let me know.
Sanyo PLV-Z700 Home Theater Projector
It's tough on last year's models. And the PLV-Z700 is just that. I've always liked this projector, but it's just not as competitive here, in year two, especially as the street price hasn't dropped much. It is one of the sharpest looking LCD projectors, which is nice, and for HDTV/Sports it has a healthy 1157 measured lumens in brightest mode.. My personal taste is that I like this projector, and it would make a very good projector for HDTV and sports, as long as you keep the screen size limited. BTW, it has 3 Cinema modes - the brightest still has very good color, and almost 900 lumens. You'll give up (of course, some of the color accuracy, etc. going to the brightest mode.
Sharp XV-Z15000 Home Theater Projector
The Sharp may be of the "dimmest bulbs" of the projectors in this report, when it comes to "best mode". We measured a mere 312 lumens. That's the 3rd lowest measurement in this report, and the least bright in this class. That's ok though if you are into sports, etc. The Sharp as slightly over average 1099 lumens measured in brightest mode, which keeps it "ball park" with all but the two super bright crossover projectors the BenQ and Vivitek. Since the Sharp isn't so bright in best mode, it's not likely that the Sharp will end up facing a large screen, and that means it can kick a bit of butt in brightest mode, on say a 92" screen.
The optics disapppointed me a bit, the image is very sharp at the focus point but rolls off a bit. If you buy one of these, go for best focus about 1/3 of the way from the dead center to any corner. That will really help, if you focus dead center (you shouldn't with any projector) you will be able to see the softness at the sides and corners. Hey, even that way (in the corners), the Sharp is still going to look about as sharp as any LCD projector, and it will look sharper overall.
Viewsonic Pro8100 Home Theater Projector
Think Panasonic PT-AE4000 but a lot less money, and not quite as good. In terms of lumens, the Viewsonic is almost identical to the Panny. We measured 23 more "best" lumens and 8 less, "brightest" ones. And it lacks the CFI - creative frame interpolation that the Panasonic has (it's the only one in this class to sport CFI).
Vivitek H1080FD Home Entertainment Projector
This is just too easy! Since the Vivitek is mostly identical the BenQ W1000... Here's your trade-off. You can go with the Vivitek for the same price as the BenQ. You'll give up almost 20% of brightness, which considering how bright both are in "brightest" mode, isn't too bad. Instead, you receive from the Vivitek H1080FD, a 3x color wheel instead of a two (on the BenQ). That can be a real benefit for those rainbow sensitive - not for watching sports, but when you are back watching movies. That also applies for dark content on Discovery HD type programming. For clarification, when I say "dark content" I'm not talking evil, like Darth Vader, or Voldemort, but rather exploring underwater caves, or deep space, or "A history of night vision googles" if ever there was such a special.
Bottom Line: If sports is all you care about, pick up the BenQ or the Vivitek. Even if you are rainbow sensitive you won't normally see rainbows in sports types of content. If you are really worried about it, go with the Vivitek over the BenQ, giving up some lumens, but plenty left. Moving up in overall quality, but still very bright, is the Epson Home Cinema 8100. It's going to look great on sports and HDTV.
The Panasonic isn't overly bright, but its the only one in this group with CFI - for motion smoothing, which makes it a consideration. The Mitsubishi is sharp, bright and has really good color. Most of the others are ok, most with average brightness.
$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Above HDTV - Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Wow! Yes, the W6000 is a bit too green in brightest mode, but boy does it have the lumens when you need them. It's 1750 lumens we measured in "brightest" mode, smokes the other projectors in this Mid-Price class. The LG is the next brightest with 1380 and then the Epsons with 1309. Still they are all at least 20% less bright.
All of the rest of the projectors in this class are down at least 40% from the BenQ.
OK, the color's not what you hoped for in brightest, but those lumens are there when you need them. If you insist or much better color, change modes, say bye-bye to about 500 lumens but the W6000 still remains one of the brightest projectors, and for that matter, when you do that, the BenQ has better color than the Epsons (leaving only the LG, better and brighter).
You will just love theW6000's sharpness. Is it the sharpest of the DLP projectors - no, but it is one of the sharpest. You have to love that for sports and HD digital content.
OK, your choices with the BenQ W6000 - for sports 1750 screaming lumens, when absolutely needed. About 1250 lumens complete with very good color. I seriously doubt you would want to use the BenQ W6000 in brightest mode for Discovery HD type content, but 2nd brightest will look great, and very bright.
So, if HDTV and Sports are your primary thing, then this BenQ, along with the LG andEpson's are the way to go.
The W6000 projector was used for the image above.
Oh dear! When the Cinetron arrived, and I started playing with it, I wasn't overly impressed, in fact discussed not reviewing it at all, until I discovered a lot of lumens lurking. Considering the relatively poor black level performance, it was a tough call, but I decided the lumens earned it a review. Oops, then a few weeks later, the LG appeared. Another LCoS projector, it was brighter than the Cinetron HD700, but also had much better black level performance and other strengths. Too bad, had the LG arrived first, I likely never would have reviewed this projector. That means this report would have likely published 10 days sooner.
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Year after year, the Epson UBs have what it takes to be versatile and successful in terms of both movie and HDTV/sports type viewing. Like the BenQ, it's brightest mode's color has too much green, though as bad as the BenQ, but, I'd still rather watch my Discovery HD and Paladia HD music videos in LivingRoom mode which is almost as bright. Sharpness (LCD projector) still could be better, and you miss the sharpness more with this type of content than film based movies.
Still, the Epson took the top award in this class, because even if it isn't the best solution for only HDTV and sports, it has no real weaknesses, even for this type of viewing. And, of course, it has CFI for your sports viewing, which half the units in this class, lack.
Above, nightime in my main theater, all 128 inches of my Firehawk G3, being filled by the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB. Six recessed ceiling lights on, at near full brightness. The Epson is handling quite a bit of well controlled ambient light, and still providing a pretty dynamic image.
Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB
There are no differences between the Pro Cinema 9500UB and the 8500UB, when it comes to HDTV and sports. The only differences between the projectors are the 9500UB's longer warranty, support for an anamorphic lens, black finish and higher price point. End of conversation.
Epson Pro Cinema 9100
The Pro Cinema 9100 is the Pro version of the 8100 found in the entry level class. For your extra money, you get only the extra warranty and black finish. The 9100 comes from Epson authorized local installing dealers. If you are doing you place and letting a quality dealer handle the work, you end up with the 9100 not the 8100. That's fair, you will always pay a bit more from a local installing dealer, than an internet dealer. If you weren't concerned about local installation, then go buy the 8500UB instead of the 9100, for about the same money.
The LG (above) offers a very bright image with excellent color.
Cool! This new LG definitely loves HDTV and sports. With the LG CF181D projector's "brightnest" mode being the second highest meausured in this class at 1380 lumens, it's got the power. And it has the best color of the brightest. It's color performance at 1380 lumens at least as good as the Epson's LivingRoom mode, and the BenQ's second best mode (1250 lumens). It's got CFI for your sports viewing pleasure. It looks great on sports, and even better on Discovery HD type content.
If you are choosing between the BenQ and the LG, here's a clue: Other than lumens, the key trade-offs:
The LG has CFI and great color. The BenQ has no CFI for motion smoothing, but has an advantage in sharpness.
Geez, tough call, so before you start killing off brain cells figuring this out, keep in mind that, these two really are different but about equal for HDTV and sports. Two awesome projectors.
Above LG CF181D - shot from Gossip Girl (my wife and daughter are hooked).
I should point out that if I had all the projectors in house at Superbowl time, this would have been one of my top three choices: LG CF181D or the InFocus SP8602, or the BenQ W6000. The InFocus would have gotten the nod for maximum brightness, with great color and excellent sharpness.
The thing is, in my high ceiling room (21 feet at the top), I've gone to rear shelf mounting. As it turns out, not only the Epson (best placement flexibility around) will work on my shelf, but so will these other two (just make it), despite the less range on the zoom. But, the odd/interesting way Infocus handles their optics, would reduce the InFocus's brightness more than the other two, when being mounted at full telephoto on the zoom. That would have me using the LG for Superbowl (what a long way to get to my point - sorry)! Why, because it would have the most lumens of the three, and better color than the second brightest (on my shelf), the Epson. All three have CFI.
The BenQ W6000 would also do, but without CFI, and only about 1250 base lumens in brightest mode with very good color, I'd have to take the color/brightness, over the sharpness. Folks that's my 2 cents!
A perfectly fine projector, it's one of the sharper LCD projectors. That said, it's average in lumens, lacks CFI, etc. Sure it's fine for HDTV and sports, but hardly a top choice in this field of competition
Too dim. OK, might be an excellent choice for sports on an 82" screen, but hey, even in brightest mode, at the mid-point of the zoom (where we measure all of these), it's the dimmest projector in the entire report. Not a thing wrong with the picture (ok no CFI for sports), but it comes down to "where's the beef! Sorry, not enough under this hood. It's just not the projector with the horsepower to do sports well, unless your screen size is down there with the LCDTVs and Plasmas.
Not quite as underpowered as the Mitsubishi HC7000, the HD8200, is still one of the dim bulbs, when it comes to sports. Our brightest measurement of the HD8200 was 660 lumens. That's a mere 64 lumens brighter than the Mitsubishi HC7000. The picture is nice and sharp, but if you want enough lumens to be able to see your friends easily while watching football...
The Z3000 does have some spare lumens. It's another projector that's average in brightness, so I can't beat on it too much, since it measured a good 150 lumens more than my own RS20. So, it has adequate brightness for sports. While the Z3000 we calibrated, never had quite as good color as we expected (strange color management abilities?), it still looks good on sports and Discovery HD, etc. The skin tones weren't as good as most, but then, considering lamp variations, etc., another unit might have done better. (Still we have to blame a little on the less capable color controls.) Sharpness is better than average for an LCD projector, but not a match for a good DLP. The Z3000 is more a well rounded, average brightness projector that just makes the UHC cut, rather than a projector particularly good for sports and HDTV.
The Sony HW15 was certainly in contention for one of the two Best In Class - Runner-up awards. More than anything else this is the category that cost it an award. It's another projector without the lumens to really well with some ambient light present, as it only measured 771 lumens. True, that's not a whole lot less than the JVCs like mine, but those aren't the competition. In the Sony's class, the projectors are in a sense more versatile, and less focused just on movies and picture quality.
Given the lumens, the Sony does well with the content, but, again, not enough lumens to do battle in terms of sports and HDTV content calling for brightness/some ambient light. In that regard it has to go head to head with the LG projector - both are LCoS, both have CFI for motion smoothing, both have similar sharpness and excellent color. The LG costs maybe a couple hundred less at this time, but the killer difference between these otherwise similar projectors is brightness. The LG can match the Sony's 771 lumens and raise it by 609, about 80% brighter (1380 measured lumens).
End of conversation. For this type of viewing, my money strongly favors the LG.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Above, a little sunlight coming in the partially open shades on the doors. The image on the screen is about 112" diagonal, put there by the Optoma HD8600 with its 1110 measured lumens. The room is much brighter in reality, than it appears here. The image on the screen is sufficiently brighter than the rest of the room, that the room appears dark. I can sit in my captain's chair, there on the left, and easily read a newspaper in that light.
You don't have to read the following paragraphs about the Screen Play 8602, you just have to know that if you mount it close, and up high as it will mount, this is by easily the brightest projector in the group. It's a nice, sharp DLP. It has CFI for smoothing motion (best for sports). (And don't forget the great color.) That's it. It's got all you want for sports and HDTV viewing. The rest, below are the unusual details of how the unique optical setup, can give you the option of all those extra lumens.
Oh, the InFocus SP8602, when ideally mounted, easily has more lumens than any other projector it this class. You may note that in the chart I show a respectable 1110 lumens, but that's mounting the projector at the mid point of the lenses zoom range, and mounting the projector just a couple inches above the top of the screen surface. Now that's how we normally measure.
You must realize that projectors with lots of range in their zoom lens will also have varying brightness, with the projector signicantly brighter at wide angle (closest to the screen) than telephoto (way back for shelf mounting). The thing is, the InFocus gets a much larger boost in lumens as it moves roughly three feet closer to the screen, from the mid-point to wide angle. In fact with minimum distance placement, we measured 1343 lumens. That's almost an 18% drop for that small movement, a lot considering the lens is only a 1.5:1 zoom. Consider the Epson UB projector. With the same screen, their best in report 2.1:1 zoom has these characteristics: A 23% drop from wide angle to mid. That's not much more loss in lumens considering that's about a 6 foot difference in placement, not 3. OK, you can understand that if you want max lumens from the SP8602, you'll want to mount close.
But that's only half the story. Their lens setup has another behaviour I've never encountered before. Lens shift only works in a narrow range, it only allows the projector to be mounted from just above to maybe 2 feet above the screen top. The thing is, we've measured lens shift effects on brightness with other projectors. Normally varying the height as much as the range of the InFocus only affects brightness by a few percent (the Epson about 3). With the InFocus, though, instead of mounting just above the screen top, mount it at maximum (for a 100 inch screen, the InFocus can be anywhere from 2.5 inches to about 15 inches above the screen top.
When you go the maximum, though, brightness jumps about 18.5%, not just a couple. Thus, if you can mount it high, and close - wow, all of a sudden you are approaching 1600 lumens!
Too dim to be a great HDTV and sports projector, but with about 750 lumens in brightest mode (actually we suspect other RS15s might be a little brighter, because this review unit was the dimmest of all the JVCs tested and it shouldn't have been.
Really good color, average image sharpness, and below average lumens make the DLA-RS15 a not so hot projector for sports and HDTV overall. That's definitely true when you consider the InFocus is the most direct competition, with far more lumens, sharper image...
Ditto for the DLA-RS25. This one, at least measured where we expected it to be, which was a little over 850 lumens when we measured it. The difference between the RS25 and the RS15, when it comes to sports and HDTV is simply this: The RS25 has better color, and it's got amazing black levels. Those two, combine to make folks like me settle for less HDTV/sports performance, in favor of a more exceptional image for movie viewing. Note, again, sharpness is typically average.
Ahh, just like the RS25, but more of the same. The DLA-RS35 measured a bit lower 781 brightest mode lumens (JVC says no particular reason an RS35 would measure less than an RS25 (so, again, lamp variation?). There is a big difference though between the RS35 and the RS25 for sports, and that is the sharpness difference we observed based on the far better pixel alignment of the RS35. I still would ask for another 300 - 500+ lumens, but the sharpness appeals to me (expecially as an RS20 owner who's been living with JVC brightness for over 2 years now (first the RS1, then the RS20).
The HD8600 is a particularly good sports and HDTV content projector. It has similar brightness to the InFocus when mounting at normal heights and at mid-point on the zoom, but with ideal placement the InFocus does better. (Hey, if you have to mount further back, it's the Optoma that's likely to be the brighter.
What the Optoma has going for it, is one of the very sharpest images in the entire report. I do recall it looking particularly good on sports. That same sharpness, also works great with my favorite Discovery HD, Travel HD and other HD content.
Above, fun for the whole family. Miley Cyrus on HDTV - Sony VW85 projector..
Here we go again. A beautiful projector but not enough lumens for the sports with some ambient light. A measured 606 lumens just doesn't cut it. For the rest of the quality digital content on HDTV, it does great - as long as you keep the lights off, and the blackout shades closed.
This time around, the Sony VW85 works out to be pretty much like the JVC RS25, for HDTV and sports, but not quite as bright. Let's put it this way, if you decided for other reasons that the VW85 is a better fit than the RS25, then the brightness difference will not be enough to disuade you from the Sony.
OK, true, the Vivitek has only 526 lumens measured in "brightest" mode. I'd like you to think of it more like about 750 lumens though. That's because of the LED light source. The Vivitek will take many years of heavy viewing before the lamp dims significantly. Projectors with regular lamps will lose about 50% of their brightness, likely before the Vivitek loses 10%. When I consider brightness, I realize almost all projectors I review have brand new, or almost brand new lamps in them.
I live in the real world though, because my own RS20 had over 800 hours on it a few months ago when I reviewed the RS25. When it came to brightness, my RS20 wasn't close to matching the RS25 with its new lamp. Even turning the RS25's lamp to low power, it remained brighter than my RS20, which starts out equally bright.
Image above taken using the InFocus Screen Play 8602.
Bottom Line for HDTV/TV and Sports Viewing in this projector class:
These are all first class projectors, give or take an occasional issue. Not a real slacker in the lot, although brightness varies a lot. That said, for sports in particular they really show differences. Only the Optoma HD8600 and the InFocus have any serious horsepower. In fact using our roughly 1000 lumen average for brightest mode, they are the only projectors in this class that aren't below average brightness. Both have at least 1100, whereas the next brightest - the RS25, barely reached 850 lumens.
It drives me crazy, the lack of brightness of most of these more expensive projectors. True, you can spend much bigger bucks for 3 chip DLPs, that have plenty of lumens, but we really need some projectors out there that can put 2000, or even 3500 lumens on the screen when needed. You put about 3500 lumens on a 100 inch HC gray screen, and the picture starts looking nice and bright like an LCDTV. Of course, for movie watching, you need to be able to drop it down around 1200 lumens or a lot less in most home setups. I've seen 3500 lumens on my 128" and it's awefully impressive for sports.
OK, at this level of the game, you are somewhat limited in your choices if you want brightness for your sports. Most spending in this price range, are spending more than the mid-price class because they want a higher level of image qualityfor great movie viewing. At least that's what the manufacturers seem to believe the buyers want. I believe that in this price range you can have both: The high quality, and plenty of brightness. How much more expensive would a JVC RS25 have to be if it could have twice the output? It's currently a pretty quiet projector, they can probably handle a brighter lamp, with more powerful fans. Please, someone build a great projector around a 400 watt lamp, instead of the usual 170 to 240 watts.
I'll keep yelling at the manufacturers, for really bright projectors. They will give us some of them, one of these days. Of course LED light sources are supposed to replace lamps. So far most of the expensive LED light sourced projectors haven't been that bright, but what I'm asking for, in power and price is almost certainly less than 2 years out. My fingers are crossed.
Above, the BCS championship at the Rose Bowl back in January. The projector is the JVC RS35.